Release of Nutrient Elements

The world’s growing population will need more food and energy. We’ve met those demands in the past. But in so doing, we’ve endangered our environment, including through the release of nutrient elements nitrogen and phosphorus. These elements make up some of the Earth’s most essential materials, but their presence in excess damages freshwater and marine ecosystems, biodiversity and air quality.

Societal Must-Have

    In watersheds experiencing eutrophication or hypoxia, pollution from excess nutrients must, by 2020, be brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity, including marine and soil ecosystems while avoiding adverse effects through air pollution on human health and climate change. Accomplishing this goal will require comprehensive watershed management that includes improved forestry, agricultural, urban and ecosystem management:

    • Based on 2013 levels, by 2020 there is a 20% relative improvement worldwide for full-chain use efficiency of fertilizer and biological nitrogen fixation for the nutrient elements nitrogen and phosphorus. By taking a full chain approach, this goal incorporates the need to improve the efficiency of manure and sewage recycling. Today, about two-thirds of nitrogen and half of all phosphorus applied as fertilizer are lost to the wider environment including the atmosphere, waterways and coastal areas.

    • From 2013 levels, reduce by over 10% the amount of industrial and domestic untreated wastewater discharge (e.g., by increasing wastewater treatment, development/implementation of policy requirements). Today, about 80% of wastewater from human settlements and industrial sources is discharged to the environment without treatment.

    Explanatory notes are available upon request.